Rather surprisingly for a Disney film, neither children and dinosaurs are center stage in Robert Stevenson’s silly romp, with instead focuses on a battle between nannies (led by Helen Hayes) and Chinese criminals (led by Peter Ustinov). The competition is for Lotus X, a mysterious formula smuggled out of China by Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo) and hidden in the bones of a dinosaur in a London museum. Few would suggest that Stevenson’s film has anything astute to say about race of age; the gag is that the old ladies are more than a match for their professional opponents. Featuring a role call of aging British talent, from Jon Pertwee to Max Wall, this holiday staple’s main prop turns up in Star Wars, and features some rather lovely glass paintings in the old style and is based on a novel by David Forrest.
With Paul Verhoeven at the film, flesh and blood are onscreen in copious quantities in this impressively serious minded barbarian movie. The Dutch director’s first English language film reunites him for the fifth time with star Rutger Hauer, as mercenary Martin who takes refuge in a medieval stronghold in Europe circa 1501. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the princess that Martin has designs on, with the director pulling no punches about how she uses her sexuality to survive. Flesh + Blood had a notoriously difficult production, with Verhoeven and Hauer never working again together, and the details of plague, disease and sickness gives the production an unusually realistic feel. But given that Verhoeven’s headed for Hollywood and Robocop the day after the film was completed, it’s clearly the work of a major talent with technical skill and attitude to burn.
One of the few sequels that merit comparison with the original, Richard Franklin’s 1983 thriller returns to the Bates Motel with Anthony Perkins returning after 22 years in a mental institution and Vera Miles returning as Lila Loomis, and Meg Tilly as her daughter. Norman’s troubled mind is immediately disturbed by the surroundings, but Tom Holland’s script ingenuously reworks many of the tropes of the original Hitchcock film, with the local people keen to knock Norman off his stride by driving him mad. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score, and Psycho II’s twists and turns make for a stylish entry in the series, strong on suspense and light on gore.
A game-changer in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, Richard Fleicher’s 1984 sequel to Conan the Barbarian has more laughs than most comedies, as Arnold Schwarzenegger dons the thong and headband to reprise his role to comic effect. Conan is joined by an improbably merry band, including Olivia D’Abo, Grace Jones, Mako and US football star Wilt Chamberlain for a journey to set free a princess, but actually involves a lot of glass paintings, studio-sets, rubber monsters and dialogue that has to be heard to be believed. Dumbed down from a not-particularly smart original, Conan The Destroyer’s kiddie friendly adventure effectively ended the franchise until 2012’s equally inane Conan reboot.
If you only see one period musical about union development starring Christian Bale this year, then the choice is limited to Disney’s 1992 film Newsies. That’s no bad thing, since despite its relatively unknown status, Kenny Ortega’s film has a lot to offer, not least in the form of songs by Alan Mecken, who also did great work on The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Bale plays Jack Kelly, a newsboy who rallies his youthful co-workers to strike against the press-barons, notably Robert Duvall. Originally conceived as a straight drama, Disney appear to have got cold feet about the musical content, and the songs are treated in a piecemeal fashion, often broken up by irrelevant dialogue. But the setting, cast and subject are all fresh, and the novelty value of bale’s song and dance keeps you watching; as with his later performances, it seems there’s few things that bale can’t do as an actor.
Poltergeist and Texas Chainsaw director Tobe Hooper was a surprising choice to helm this big-budget but endearingly tatty sci-fi opus, based on Colin Wilson’s novel Space Vampires, shot in the UK and featuring a plethora of recognisable actors. In a plot that updates the classic Quatermass story with new-fangled Alien-style gore, thanks to the input of writer Dan O’Bannon, Mathilda May plays Space Girl, a intergalactic vampire whose lair is discovered by a space probe, hiding behind Halley’s comet. When the discovery is brought to earth, all hell breaks lose, and Brits Patrick Stewart and Peter First join forces with sole survivor Steve Railsback to sort things out. A full score from Pink Panther composer Henry Mancini sits oddly with violent transformation scenes and some woeful model-work; taking a leaf out of Hot Fuzz, a scale model of London is destroyed in home movie fashion. Clearly a jumping off point for the Species franchise, Life-force is a classic example of good-bad film-making, as British stiff-upper lip authorities tangle with a gorgeous nude female vampire.